GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Prior to a hurricane’s landfall, families are reminded to include pets in their disaster plans. But often times protecting larger animals or finding pet-friendly shelters can be difficult and these animals may need to be rescued after the storm. The University of Florida Veterinary Emergency Treatment Service (UF VETS) associated with the UF/IFAS College of Veterinary Medicine comes to these animals’ aid.
The UF VETS team is comprised of volunteer veterinarians, technicians, students and community members who are trained to help with animal technical rescue as well as human rescues. One UF VETS volunteer is Brandi Phillips, an academic adviser for students majoring in biology through the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS).
The UF VETS team serves as animal and agricultural post-disaster relief. UF VETS is the lead member of Florida’s State Agriculture Response Team (SART), and volunteers have been deployed as emergency responders to aid those affected by Hurricane Irma. Prior to Hurricane Irma’s landfall, VETS volunteers provided crates to Alachua County Animal Services and to Eastside High School in Gainesville when it became a pet-friendly shelter. The team visited the Florida Horse Park in Ocala, Florida to provide access to food and water as well as injury assessment and treatment.
Currently, the volunteers are assisting with animal rescues in the Florida Keys while stationed in Marathon, Florida. VETS volunteers are preparing temporary boarding arrangements as families make initial repairs to their homes. Since veterinary care in the Keys is limited at this time, VETS volunteers are assessing the condition of animals that were not evacuated. The team of volunteers is ready to provide medical treatment for animals while local veterinarians make their way home to reopen facilities.
“We can transport shelter supplies, do damage assessment, and we have the ability to do phone banking at the vet school to help keep track of veterinarian practices around the state and assess their needs after the storm,” said UF VETS director, John Haven. “We can determine if we need to deploy our field hospital in an area to help with animal care.”
Phillips has been a part of the UF VETS team since 2011. Phillips began her involvement with UF VETS as an agricultural education and communication graduate student by writing the Animal Technical Rescue curriculum for the program. She is now an instructor of this course, which is one of the few emergency technical rescue courses in the country approved by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Prior to working with this disaster response and technical rescue team, she volunteered with wildlife rehabilitation and was a veterinary assistant.
“The most rewarding part [of working with UF VETS] is being able to provide happy endings for people and their four-legged family members,” Phillips said. “As an animal lover myself, there is no greater reward than a safe rescue.”
The UF VETS team has assisted in the recovery and rescue of animals across the state during natural disasters since Hurricane Charley in 2004. Haven said the UF VETS team was ready to deploy to Texas to aid recovery efforts due to Hurricane Harvey.
“We are a self-contained team,” Haven said. “It turns out Texas didn’t need us, but Florida does. Several of the UF VETS team members are human technical rescue trained, as is Phillips.”
If you have an animal-related emergency due to Hurricane Irma, contact your county’s emergency operations center by visiting http://www.flsart.org. The county will determine if UF VETS services are required. If you would like to support UF VETS’ Hurricane Irma rescue and recovery efforts, donations can be made here.
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